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Fire board clarifies chief positions

— Fire District No. 3 has clarified its relationship with the cities of Okanogan and Omak concerning hiring of chiefs and composition of fire crews.

The district board, during a Jan. 14 meeting, adopted two resolutions in the wake of Okanogan’s firing of Fire Chief Gordon Hennigs, who also was the district’s Okanogan chief.

Commissioner Dave Williams presented the resolutions to the district fire commission.

In the first resolution, district commissioners said the cities’ “duly appointed” chiefs will be the district’s designated station chiefs for those respective districts. A chief would serve until either a city council or the district board amended the designation, but the district reserved final approval for itself.

“Historically, that’s the way it’s been,” Commissioner Dave Goetz said.

Okanogan First Assistant Chief Scott Duncan, who is the acting chief, said if Okanogan hires someone who doesn’t want to be district chief, the resolution would allow someone else to be appointed.

The resolution doesn’t apply to the Malott station chief since that community isn’t incorporated.

The district alone names that chief. Matt Rawson fills that position.

In the second resolution, commissioners said a member of a station’s firefighting crew must be a “member in good standing” of the corresponding city’s fire crew, and have full access and authority from the city to respond to fires and participate in training, meetings, emergency responses and other functions conducted by the city organization.

Final appointment as a station crew volunteer rests with the fire district so any member who does not meet the city criteria may petition the board for inclusion on the district crew.

“It’s got to be seamless, transparent,” Williams said. “If someone doesn’t meet the criteria, they could ask for consideration.”

As long as a firefighter had full and unimpeded access to the station, it would not be a problem for someone to be a district firefighter only, he said.

The district houses its Omak and Okanogan station equipment in the two cities’ fire halls, so access to those cities’ halls is necessary.

Former Mayor Michael Blake terminated Hennigs’ 17-year employment in December, but has refused to say why. Hennigs said he was not given a reason.

Shortly after Hennigs’ termination, the City Council voted to reduce the fire chief position to half time as a way to help balance the 2014 budget.

Duncan, a teacher, said he is not interested in applying for the chief’s position.

Board Chairman Mike Cusick asked who decides whether a firefighter is in good standing.

In Okanogan, the Okanogan Volunteer Fire Department Association certifies and disciplines members, Duncan and Hennigs said.

“The city chooses to recognize that,” Duncan said.

Hennigs said in his 32 years as an Okanogan firefighter, the city has never rejected an association-approved firefighter. The association has disapproved and even removed crew members.

“How Okanogan chooses to select is up to the city,” Williams said.

Hennigs said he continues to be a member of the Okanogan Fire Department and has responded to calls since his termination as chief.

For Omak, a similar organization decides membership, although a city Fire Board has final say on membership, Omak Chief Kevin Bowling said.

In other business, fire commissioners:

• Adopted a third resolution allowing commissioners to serve as volunteer firefighters of the district, but without compensation.

Commissioners receive, by state law, $104 per day when performing district duties, with a yearly cap of $9,984. They can opt to waive all or a portion of that compensation.

• Re-elected Cusick as chairman for another year.

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